from the world's big
The Stunning Rise in Plastic Surgery Shows a Psychological Crisis
In 2016 Americans spent $16.4 billion on cosmetic plastic surgery. What does that say about the health of our psyche?
Over a billion phones in China are equipped with apps produced by Meitu, Inc. Launched in 2008, the signature app, also named Meitu (“beautiful picture”), is a basic photo-editing program. The inventors originally imagined it as a general-purpose app until they noticed user data. Teenage girls were by far the most engaged audience. Today the company is worth more than $6 billion.
Meitu not only changed the perception of a generation in China, it also gave birth to a specific look: wang hong lian, “Internet-celebrity face.” Executives and users claim it to be an expectable backlash against the lack of individuality demanded by Communism for so long. And yet, critics reply, this has created its own form of uniformity. The average user spends forty minutes doctoring a photo before daring to release it for public inspection. A two-person photo demands at least an hour.
Revenue is in part generated by cosmetic companies brandishing lucrative deals with wang hong elite, as well as by partnering with Meitu, Inc, to virtually stylize and then sell actual product to adoring fans—embedded links make shopping irresistible. But the craze has also created another trend: plastic surgeries in hopes of attaining the perfect “Internet-celebrity face.”
While Jiayang Fan was reporting on Meitu for The New Yorker, she received a free consultation on what it would take to attain a wang hong face. By the end her face “resembled a military map.” The consultation is worth quoting in full, especially considering that Fan was effectively informed that, even with all of this work, she’d never achieve an Internet-worthy face.
My jaw was too square, my cheekbones too broad, and my eyelids too droopy. My nose bowed outward—a “camel hump”—and I had a weak chin. After the half-dozen or so procedures that it would take to ameliorate these flaws, we could move on to smaller things, which could be dealt with by a combination of Botox (for my shrunken forehead, my jaw muscles, and the creeping crow’s-feet around my eyes) and filler (for my temples, the pouches under my eyes, my nasal folds, and my upper lip). The cost would be more than thirty thousand dollars.
Americans also love work. We talk about it all the time: jobs growing the economy, getting this group of workers more work, technology alleviating certain forms of work in this sector, the work we put in at the gym, the work it takes to run a business and family. Yet there’s this other type of work so prominent in our culture, the work we pay for to hide the work we’re not willing to put in: the work associated with a cultural ideal detached from the emotions and psychology of what that work entails.
This sort of work is more psychological than physical—we adore illusions, and any illusion that can temper the ravages of old age are considered to be worth the price. A little work here, some major work there, whatever works to stave off the tragedy of earthly decline. To stay relevant. To stay young.
We might not have Meitu, but Instagram celebrities with mutant bodies claim millions of fans. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons 2016 was its most successful year to date: 290,000 cosmetic breast augmentations; 131,000 face lifts; seven million Botox injections. Only laser hair removal and microdermabrasion were down from the prior year, but even those numbers—1.1 million and 775,000—are staggering.
This trend cuts across all age groups. Once the domain of the aging, now Internet-celebrity faces (and butts and legs and breasts and arms) are available to all. There were 229,000 cosmetic procedures performed on teenagers in 2016, including the fast growing field: male breast reduction. The bulk of surgeries occurred in the 40-54 age group, the bulk of that being minimally invasive touch-ups like Botox.
While 92 percent of patients were female, the 8 percent male ratio marks an increase as well. And the data are cross-cultural: the largest ethnic increase is Asian Americans at 6 percent, followed by Caucasians at 4 percent. There was no one-year change in African Americans, while Hispanic participation dropped by 2 percent. The fear of aging appears democratic even as our society seems less so.
These are one-year statistical increases. Trace over sixteen years and the numbers are even starker: 854 percent increase in Botox injections in women, 376 percent in men; 201 percent increase in buttock lifts in women, 537 percent increase in men; 5075 percent increase in upper arm lifts in women, while lower body lifts in men shot up 363 percent. These data are all regarding cosmetic, not reconstructive, procedures.
Total yearly cost of a little work? $16.4 billion. Projected to rise in 2017.
Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire is Kurt Andersen’s exhaustive 500-year history of an America that has produced creationism and reality television and a reality television president, a turn of events he could not even have foreseen when he began work on the book in 2013. He goes to great lengths to show how this detachment from what matters most has slowly, and then quickly, eroded our national conscience over the course of a half-millennium.
Despite the tendency to look back at America’s founding as secular, Andersen documents the superstition that has pervaded this country since the first English immigrants dreamed of discovering the biblical garden of Eden, as well as sizable deposits of gold, in what came to be known as Virginia. The Plymouth Rock group was also seeking gold (and a quicker commute to Asia for trade). The fact that our schools’ textbook narrative has conveniently forgotten that in lieu of religious-freedom-seeking Pilgrims is indicative of our penchant for fantasizing.
One modern manifestation of over overactive imaginations is what Andersen dubs the “Kids ‘R’ Us Syndrome.” Video games, fantasy sports, and adults dressing up for Halloween are products of the Reagan era, which he calls “ranging from the benign to the unfortunate.” He points to Michael Jackson who, while in residence at his fantastical Neverland Ranch, was having cosmetic surgery to look more and more like a child every few months. The nation followed suit.
Around the same time, Andersen continues, the ubiquity of pornography made pubic hair obsolete and drove up the number of breast implants—one in twenty-five American women now have them. As trends become more extreme (like pornography itself), labiaplasty took root in Southern California, often so that a woman’s labia minora would not be noticed when they wore yoga pants.
Americans began saying and wishfully believing about round-numbered ages that X is the new Y—thirty the new twenty, forty the new thirty, fifty the new forty, and so on. Yet in so many ways they all became the new twenty, the new fifteen…we really came to believe we were kids of all ages.
We’ve long dreamed up escapes from organic reality through the invention of mythologies. From King Gilgamesh traveling the globe in search of the sacred plant that grants everlasting life to a California valley filled with code manipulators who drink chemistry all day—Soylent on the rocks, anyone?—the quest for eternity has never been far from view regardless of how elusive it always proves to be. Once doctors figured out how to physically represent these changes, the cost was never a concern.
Yet this frantic uptick in surgeries coincides with all-time high rates of anxiety and depression. The pool Narcissus couldn’t turn away from displayed a hazy outline of a human, dynamic and fluid as the rippling of lakes tends to be. Now we erase ripples, on our phone, on our flesh, without questioning the psychological cost those deletions demand.
The quest for presence—with our imperfections, with what we truly are as animals—seems even more evasive, a fact we often don’t realize until too late. Hospice dwellers desire connection, health, and freedom from pain, not fuller lips. While difficult to pinpoint the exact date we went from judging a person on the character of their actions to the character of their forehead, at some point we did, and that judgment is toxic. We pay the price every time we look into a mirror and say, “if only.”
Wrinkles mark time like rivulets carve territory. In an era defined by femininist rights and an inspiring rush toward recognizing the unity of all races, falling victim to the greedy demands of our ego benefits no one. We should wear our skin proudly, as protectors of memories and champions of equality. To hate history is to loathe identity. That’s no way to live, no way to age, no way to die. Forgetting, Neruda wrote, is so long.
Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
Check out these mysterious optical illusions that affect our visual perception.
- Troxler's effect or "fading" causes images to disappear from your field of vision.
- Scientists don't have a full understanding yet of how this works.
- The effect is linked to the way neurons are adapted by the visual system.
THE LILAC CHASER<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1OTgyOC9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjg0OTI5Mn0.Bha6hEz63mh7MzwjAz9uL0Sgk3xD9N7ALTk9acWjW5M/img.gif?width=980" id="94559" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a6fa6ecc96de1cc55da7f3191c8fa086" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Look at the black cross at the center of the image and the spots in this "lilac chaser" illusion will fade away in a few seconds. A grey background and the cross will remain unless you are among those who will also see a moving blue-green spot. You might even notie a bunch of green spots when you move your eyes away after a while.
HOW DOES IT WORK?<p>Research indicates the effect is related to how neurons important for perceiving stimuli are adapted by the visual system. Unchanging stimuli will eventually disappear from our awareness while our mind will fill the areas where they used to be with the background information (or color). A <strong>"sensory fading" </strong>or<strong> "filling-in"</strong> is linked to <em><strong>saccades</strong></em> – involuntary eye movements that happen even when the gaze appears settled. If we fixate on a point, an unmoving image or scene would fade from view in a few seconds thanks to the "<em>local neural adaptation </em>of the <em>rods, cones</em> and <em>ganglion cells</em> in the retina," <a href="https://www.illusionsindex.org/i/troxler-effect" target="_blank">explains the Illusions Index.</a> </p><p>The effect is made stronger if the stimulus image is low contrast or blurred. </p><p>While <a href="https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0042698905006693" target="_blank">studies</a> showed the effect doesn't only occur in the eyes but partially in the brain, there's not yet a definitive explanation for everything involved in this unusual visual phenomenon. </p>
Another example image of the Troxler effect. Look at the center of the image for about 10 seconds.
And another fun example:<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1c95efc4dbb1d807658af68ed6261020"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/c6j4ftoJzj8?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.
Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.